Friday, February 22, 2008

Size Kills Innovation

While returning from home this time round, I took a detour through Hyderabad. Though it was unscheduled, I was quite happy to spend some time with Madhumita and her family. Its always a treat, to hang out with them.

As always, GV (that's Madhumita's father) and I got into a discussion. And this time round, it was about his move from a smaller pharma company, to a much larger one. He is the head of marketing there, and made the career move, recently. While we were talking about the pros and cons of working at a bigger place, I asked him about his views on "Innovation", wrt the size of a company.

I have always had this belief, that true innovation occurs, only under adverse situations. I mean, why would I bother to rack up my precious brain cells, if I could just use the available resources to follow the crowd? I don't think Apple would have targeted the "Common Man", if they had the time, money and expertise that IBM had, to go after the corporates. I doubt if Google would even exist today, if Yahoo had not rejected their offer to being bought off.

Or look closer home, if you will. Fevicol adverts are higher in the Innovation Quotient, than Pepsi's, though the latter has a much more recognizable "Star Power". Bajaj would have forever remained as the Scooter Company, if the penetration of 100cc bikes hadn't eaten into its market. Adversity always forces people to innovate, or get swallowed into the vast void of "Has Been's".

And I am assuming, that from a layman's perspective, a smaller company will have to face a lot more adversity, in terms of resources. And if it still manages to survive, then they are bound to have a lot more innovation happening there, than at a bigger company. Wait. Am not the only one saying this. Paul Graham speaks on these lines in his essay "Hiring Is Obsolete", "Disruptive technologies are developed by disruptive people. And they either don't work for the big company, or have been outmaneuvered by yes-men and have comparatively little influence"

But GV too had a point. Giving me a specific example, he thinks that from a marketing perspective, a bigger company is a better place for innovation, because he has access to a larger resource base, to implement his ideas. Working on a very limited budget, he could not often do a lot of things that he would have wanted to. With more people and more money, he can even afford to make a few mistakes, while pursuing his creative ideas.

Now, I won't refute GV's argument, but isn't THAT the whole point? Accepted, at a small outfit, you don't have much room to make mistakes. But only when the stakes are high, you are left with no other option, but to claw on forward through the skin of your teeth! All the more reason, to try and think "different". Do the whole "Out Of The Box" jig. Will I really take the trouble to put myself through sleepless nights, bear the brunt of being cursed by my team mates, risk the ire of my boss (read : the person who decides my pay package), and more, if I am not pushed to a corner? I don't think so. I don't think so at all.

I know am putting my neck, way out of line on this, but I stand by my thoughts. Even if size doesn't completely kill innovation, it cripples it to such an extent that it loses its meaning. Ofcourse there are times when you don't have an option but to ramp up on size. But in that case, just don't expect earth shattering, universe denting stuff.

To conclude, a couple of lines from Ayn Rand's Anthem, "The spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will break through. And man will go on. Man, Not Men".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fear Of The Unknown

Yes Raj, you were right. Dusk, does have a depressing face, and today, I saw it. And honestly, I could have well done without it.

A heavy bag on my shoulders, and a suitcase in my hands was what I was burdened with. But it was a breeze, compared to the brooding sense of fatality that was overcast on the horizon. Matters far beyond my control, and often, beyond my comprehension, were bothering me. And I was sucking up to it, hook, line, sinker.

Rushing to board the train to Freedom, to Home, to my Haven, I had to stop periodically to put down the luggage, and catch my breath. And it struck me, while I was resting my tired arms at one such pitstop.

The smoke and fumes had added a halo around the ochre orbs of the sodium lamps, unenthusiastically lighting the paths of millions of thankless, ungrateful passersby. The long winter evening, had its mouth wide open, to swallow and extinguish the flickering flame of life from the last rays of the run. The cacaphony of the blaring horns, snarling traffic, vociferous street peddlers, strangely mixed in harmony, to leave an eerie muted ghost of the real menace. And the moon, the full moon no less, gave off a pale, omniscient glow, that enveloped everything around it.

It didn't take my senses longer than a few moments to perceive all this. And before I knew it, a strange, unnamed fear, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the incomprehensible, was upon me.

I quickly picked up my bags, and rushed towards the station. Even when my arms were screaming out in pain, I dared not stop. Didn't dare turn around. Didn't dare slow down either, till I was safely inside the station.

Sitting under the brighter and happier neon cousins of those sinister orbs, which had made me so uncomfortable a couple of minutes back, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was way too early for my train, and so, warmed up to a hard, uninviting seat, on the platform.

After some time, I finally summed up enough courage to steal a glance at the now distant, street lamps. But surprisingly, they were just what they were supposed to be. Sodium Street Lamps! I breathed a sigh of relief. Hah! It was all, merely a figment of my hyper active imagination. After all, the accumulated stress of the last couple of months, was probably taking its toll. Or maybe, though I wouldn't want to admit it, it was the thespian in me, over reacting to a visual trick of nature. It was not surprising, that the Grizzly Bear was given to calling me the "Drama Queen".

My spirits started to soar, as the train drew in to the station. Just like it had over the last six odd years, my heart faithfully skipped a beat at the prospect to being home. The rush to board the train, locating my seat, squeezing past people, while carrying my ten tonne load, I barely managed to sit down on my seat, when the train began to pull out.

I craned my neck, to catch a last glimpse of the street lights, before they disappeared in the dark of the night. The moving train, the running people, the loud whistle, added to a lot of the distraction. But my gaze was fixed. My mouth went dry. I could hear the blood singing in my ears. It was NOT OVER, and no, it was not my hyper active imagination either. In a queer moment of logical triumph, I knew that I was not wrong. In that last fleeting moment, the lamps had just winked at me! And in a simultaneous flash of sudden insight, I knew, they would be waiting, for my return!